Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0464  Monday, 20 November 2012

 

[1] From:        Dom Saliani <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 19, 2012 5:57:18 PM EST

     Subject:     RE: Play Length 

 

[2] From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 19, 2012 10:22:59 PM EST

     Subject:     On Play Length 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Dom Saliani <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 19, 2012 5:57:18 PM EST

Subject:     RE: Play Length

 

Thanks to Extrapolitzing Steve for his comments and compliment.

 

I have not been described as being “jaunty” for a long time, but I kinda like it.

 

Steve is worried that our jaunting “may crash splat into disagreeable data or into contrary opinions held with equal enthusiasm” and I appreciate his concern but I need to declare that I am a fierce supporter of T.S. Eliot’s licensing of such jaunting when he says that “About anyone so great as Shakespeare, it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that from time to time we should change our way of being wrong.”

 

Now there is a challenge for all of us.

 

Steve should also be assured that I do NOT wonder “if Shakespeare would actually write extended material that would have to be presented to intellectually incapable groundlings.”

 

Of course he would – but his shadows (who were fearful of offending groundlings who were challenged by anything more than “dumb shows and noise”) would have presented on stage – as stated in so many prologues and on title pages – far less than what was printed – especially in the cases of Romeo and Hamlet.

 

I applaud Steve for admiring the stamina and patience of Elizabethan audiences in the theatres and cathedrals and we are definitely in agreement that for audience members, a day at the theatre would have been four or so hours long. But this would have included pre- and post- entertainment (balladeers, jugglers, bergomask dancers, etc.) besides the featured drama. It does not boggle the imagination to accept that the pre- and post- diversions could take anywhere from a half hour to an hour and thus the feature play would, if my math is correct, be somewhere between two and three hours.

 

I enjoyed reading many of Steve’s comments but I did take exception when he claimed that “Dom Salieri talks about cutting plays to ‘an endurable length.’”

 

Be assured that neither I nor any of my ancestors had anything to do with the murder of Amadeus.

 

Meanwhile back at the Extrapolitzing Ranch, to me it seems rather obvious, self evident and redundantly intuitive that a four hour tryst with Romeo’s Juliet or a four to five hour all-talk (21 lines per minute) marathon with a melancholy Dane would not have been many people’s cup of tea. Did they sip tea in those days?

 

Steve dismisses Alfred Hart’s listing of a dozen mentions of “two hours” as “fictive apology” but I fear that such an opinion would have elicited the following from any self-respecting Amazon: 

 

But all the story . . . told over,

And all their minds transfigured so together,

More witnesseth than fancy’s images

And grows to something of great constancy;

But, howsoever, strange and admirable.

 

In Steve’s “land of Extrapolis,” I suspect that many of its citizens would agree that the numerous notices that printed plays had been augmented and contained more than was performed serves as clear evidence that the author was interested in sharing more than just a play script.

 

Who could argue with the sentiment that Hamlet “read by candle light, yields many good sentences”?

 

And this harkens me back to my original point. Shakespeare wanted his works to be read and not just seen.

 

His augmented and improved quartos and Folio versions read extremely well – obviously because great care was taken to include in them much more than was performed during the “two hours traffic” upon the stage.

 

I’d like to end by suggesting that Hamlet (Q2 or F) reads more like a versified novel intended to be read, It is far from a faithful transcript of a stage play. The same applies to his R. and J., Lear and Antony and Cleopatra to name a few.

 

But there I go again – expressing the obvious.

 

Dom Saliani

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 19, 2012 10:22:59 PM EST

Subject:     On Play Length

 

The question has become intertwined with the difficulty of understanding the language.  If the words and the gist are intelligible, it is much less difficult, much less tedious, to understand the play.  If not, one loses patience.  English changes over time.  Perhaps what is difficult language, even to the expert, would have been much closer to what the groundlings and everybody else spoke day to day.

 

I thought of this:  When my grandparents came to America in 1912, a scarlet fever epidemic broke out in steerage.  My grandmother went almost completely deaf.  Though she was a bright woman, spoke three languages, and read two more, she never learned English naturally.  She learned it from books and newspapers and dictionaries.  Her favorite authors were Trollope and Dickens, and she spoke like they wrote.  l remember her saying things, in an amazing accent, she never heard how English was supposed to be pronounced, like:  “If you were ever again to enter this abode with mud beflecked boots, it would be none other than I who would most severely chastise you.”  I think that is an accurate quote.  We were used to it, but my friends thought she was nuts.  She always thought that she was speaking perfectly good English that the person in the street would think quite natural and easy to understand.  

 

So it seems to me that if the groundlings heard what they thought was natural English, they would have been able to stand still and listen patiently for a longer period of time than if they thought that they were listening to arcane, “poetic” English.  It is one thing to listen to T. S. Eliot, another to listen to Walt Whitman.  

 

Michal B. Luskin

CFE: Shakespeare Quarterly

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0463  Monday, 20 November 2012

 

From:        Christina C. LeMaster <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 20, 2012 9:05:10 AM EST

Subject:     CFE: Shakespeare Quarterly

 

“Not Shakespeare”

 

Call for essays for a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly

 

We are seeking essays on Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline drama by theater-poets other than Shakespeare for a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly entitled “Not Shakespeare,” edited by Lars Engle and David Schalkwyk, which will appear in summer 2014.  To be considered for this issue, all essays must be received by 1 September 2013.

 

Submission guidelines are available here, or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0462  Monday, 19 November 2012

 

From:        Steve Urkowitz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 16, 2012 10:16:05 PM EST

Subject:     SHAKSPER: Play Length and Commonplaces of Humility?   

 

More about play length?    

 

I do like Dom Saliani’s jaunty confidence; I just find that (like some of my own jaunts into speculative scholarship) they may crash splat into disagreeable data or into contrary opinions held with equal enthusiasm.  

 

From the top: he wonders if Shakespeare would actually write extended material that would have to be presented to intellectually incapable groundlings. My own life as a groundling convinces me that even twenty minutes of b-o-r-i-n-g presentation is over my limit, two hours would be stretching civility, and three a form of cruel incarceration. But Shakespeare’s playhouses weren’t filled with hostile or resistant audiences.  They weren’t school-groups on a theater-outing.  People self-selected their entertainments, especially those that they paid for. If you didn’t want to hear a Shakespeare play, then you patronized another playhouse.    

 

And, though comments by anti-populists might protest otherwise, it seems that lots of people in London LIKED long, linguistically complex presentations. For instance, Paul’s Cross, in a courtyard outside of St Paul’s Cathedral, would pack in standees in all kinds of weather (though sometimes adjourning back into the cathedral) for sermons that ran two hours of a single voice’s talk from the pulpit plus another hour for an opening procession and time for psalm singing. This doesn’t mean that two hours sermoning necessarily should be extrapolated into an even longer length for plays, but we should consider that although the “normal” sermon ran one hour, the star-turn sermons at Paul’s Cross were twice as long. So if you’re vaulting into the land of Extrapolis with me, let’s hold hands and IMAGINE that the “normal” two hour play-length could be stretched to three hours if it’s one of those fabulous Shakespeare plays.  

 

Dom Salieri talks about cutting plays to “an endurable length.” Stephen Orgel’s “Authentic Shakespeare” essay makes the same point. Orgel cites as his prime example the Dering manuscript that deeply cuts Henry IV parts 1 and 2 for presentation as a single play.  But (as I point out in my “Did Shakespeare’s Company Cut Down his Plays . . . .” essay in the most recent SHAKESPEARE BULLETIN), the script they ended up with was not an “endurably short” thing but rather a full 3100+ lines of  drama.  (My essay offers some other examples of similar cutting that leaves a l-o-n-g residual play. And I show also that the instances of cutting where we have documentary evidence of how much was begun with and how much left after the barbering gives numbers like 6 % or 9 % or maybe 11% reductions. King Lear? Three or four hundred lines cut from Q1, maybe 10%, but 100 lines added fresh appearing for the first time in F. But chopping 30% of Q2 Romeo & Juliet to get to the length of Q1 Romeo and Juliet? That’s three times the degree of trimming. 

 

If you can’t endure an uncut Romeo and Juliet in its Q2 form, then let me suggest that you try producing it in close-to-original practices. No lighting changes to distract from the actors saying what is happening to the imagined light. No slow sets moving in for the ball-scene or the bedroom or the tomb. Actors alert as all get-out listening for their cues, primed to cut in with their next speech without knowing where their cue will come from. (Think as a modern analogy a basketball player or ice-hockey player who knows so much of what he has to do, anticipating but not really knowing where the next pass is coming from. They JUMP at opportunities. Sorry, but I’m still a groundling, happier at a good ballgame than at a sluggish production of even Shakespeare.) 

 

As for the “two hours” mentioned in various places. I finally did a count in one of Alfred Hart’s essays. He lists about a dozen over a fifty-plus year period, almost all in prologues and epilogues.  

 

I’d like to propose that the fictional character reciting the prologue or epilogue is doing something quite UNLIKE testifying at a court of law. A Prologue or Epilogue rather than a testimony of accuracy instead is a fictive apology, like, “Aw, shucks. I’m really sorry about this poor thing we botched up out of our dismal incapacities, and from your indulgence you won’t whip us, and besides we have a dance prepared to ease us back into your favor.” So a reference to the “two hours” could/should/would be seen as part of the pro-forma apologia.  

 

Meredith Skura’s brilliant monograph, Shakespeare the Actor and the Purposes of Playing, opens with the image of Marlene Deitrich taking a magnificent bow, displaying at once a total command over her audience and an absolute vulnerability while appealing for their approving applause. Maybe that’s how Shakespeare is using his reference to two short hours of what is to come in R&J or Henry VIII, a modesty commonplace, like “Please excuse the disorder of my house” intoned humbly at the threshold of a polished and exquisite home. Like us, the Early Moderns exulted in these kinds of ironic-and-sincere roles and postures, gracefully assumed, easily doffed. We can see it in their giddily inventive and often absurdly posturing writings. Could they have been INSINCERE about how long a play might take? Ye gads, I think they may have been ! Come on, Dom. Don’t take those old guys so seriously. Some day we might be old ourselves.  

 

I offer these suggestions again in the hopes that we are expanding the discourse of how we imagine those thrilling days of yesteryear, just as we try to expand our imagination of what is possible in these thrilling days of today.

 

Steve Extrapolitz

A Word about Pre-Formatting

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0461  Thursday, 15 November 2012

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Thursday, November 15, 2012

Subject:     A Word about Pre-Formatting

 

Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers,

 

Thanks to all the contributors in the “Play Length” thread; it is proving, except for my smart aleck remarks, to be an interesting discussion. (NB: I really cannot stand for a long time, and I was not trying to impose my view of the present with that of Elizabethans and Jacobeans: I was trying to be funny.) 

 

I would like to pause for a note about pre-formatting on the new platform I am using for SHAKSPER and for mounting and preparing postings for digests. 

 

Under the old system (1990 to April-May 2011), I could only use the basic ASCII character set. Now, using Joomla, I can provide posting with most symbols (like £), characters [in English or in other languages if appropriate, including italic, bold, underlining], and other formatting. 

 

Part of my job in preparing postings under LISTSERV© (old system) was to make sure that I was distributing posts using only the basic ASCII characters. With Joomla (new system), I find myself including italics, bolding, and other formatting features. However, I do try to preserve formatting, as well as spelling (such as formating, colour, favour, labour, neighbor, and generalise) and punctuation (Dr) from those using British conventions, and I DO use the “Oxford/Cambridge” comma in a series. (I learned most of what I know about formatting, punctuation, and usage from “Strunk and White” and the EDITOR program.)

 

If your e-mail client can provide italics, bolding, underling please do so and save me some time. If you e-mail client does not allow formatting options, there are several other pre-formatting tasks you can do to ease my load. 

 

If you want to use italics, for example, you can use the underscoring convention: _italic_ . If you wish to have bold, you can do this: *bold* . I can easily convert these.

 

Other formatting options I employ are “smart quotation marks” rather then "straight quotation marks"; superscripts (1st) rather than ordinals (1st); fraction characters (½) rather than straight factions (1/2); symbol characters (—) rather than symbols (--); and I try to provide ‘live’ hyperlinks http://shaksper.net rather than shaksper.net. I keep paragraphs single-spaced and flush with the left margin with a space between paragraphs rather than using indentation. I also word-wrap paragraphs rather than have hard returns at the end of each line.

 

Finally, from the Netiquette page:

  • If your name does not appear in the FROM line or does not appear correctly (i.e., account is in the name of a spouse, partner, companion, alias, etc.), sign your name at the bottom so that I can cut and paste it next to your e-mail address. You may include your title, academic affiliation, geographical location, or similar information, but signatures should be kept to a maximum of three lines.
  • Do not copy and re-send the message to which you are replying or automatically include the entire original post or digest. Quote, paraphrase, copy and paste, or cite your correspondent by name; give as much of the context as you can to clarify the nature of your reply.
  • If you “cut and paste” information from another Internet or electronic source, which often results in irregularly spaced lines of text, then pre-format that text to be sure that the information is word wrapped and does not require me to spend extra time re-formatting the text for distribution.
  • Avoid the temptation of simply cutting and pasting entire online articles and reviews and forwarding them directly to the list. Posters should judiciously quote and summarize and then provide the URL.

 

These little steps on your part will enable me to provide professionally looking digests for you and for the web site, which currently gets 150 to 300 visits a day, usually from new visitors to the site.

 

One other thing I would like to remind you of is that I can now also, on occasion, include attachments for distribution. This ability is particularly useful when you are sending in an announcement with a flyer. Announcements are made available on the web site under the ANNOUNCEMENTS tab as well as under the CURRENT POSTINGS tab.

 

I deeply appreciate the support I receive from subscribers and wish everyone well during this New Year’s celebration in many parts of the world.

 

Hardy

 

Play Length

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0461  Thursday, 15 November 2012

 

[1] From:        Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 14, 2012 4:57:50 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 

 

[2] From:        Tom Reedy <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 15, 2012 9:46:03 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length 

 

[3] From:        Holger Syme <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 15, 2012 11:10:15 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: Play Length 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 14, 2012 4:57:50 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length

 

John Drakakis muses, “Are we not in danger of allowing our own heavily sanitised assumptions of playgoing (and reading) to colour our sense of what might well have been a much more dangerous and protracted experience for Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences at the public theatres? It might also be worth reminding ourselves that ‘presentism’ isn’t simply a case of reading the past through the rosy-coloured spectacles of the present. It is, surely, a question of separating out our own perspectives from a past whose contours may well have been radically different from our own, and acknowledging that difference.”

 

I think John is correct, at least about our bringing 20th-21st century assumptions to the question. I agree with Larry Weiss’s point about 4 hours including pre- and post-play entertainment, and suspect, having just had the most amazingly wonderful Shakespeare experience of my life in Staunton VA, that many of the audience would arrive during the on-going music, juggling, etc. that preceded the actual play, so that not all of them would be standing for the full 4 hours.

 

Frankly, I would have stood, plantar fasciitis and all, for 4 hours to watch the American Shakespeare Center Company perform! Though I was happy enough to sit . . . I did wish the plays were longer!

 

Mari Bonomi, who’s already planning her next visit to Staunton. 

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Tom Reedy <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 15, 2012 9:46:03 AM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Play Length

 

Dom Saliani wrote:

 

> Even in his time, it was recognized that to get 

> Shakespeare, his words had to be read. <snip>

>

> Thomas Nashe said as much - much earlier: “yet 

> English Seneca, read by candle light, yields many 

> good sentences, as ‘blood is a beggar,’ and so
> forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning,
> he will afford you whole Hamlets; I should say 

> whole handfuls of tragical speeches.”

>

> Notice he talks about reading English Seneca 

> (Shakespeare) by candle light and NOT seeing the

> play at a theatre.

 

In his preface to Menaphon, Nashe is not dispensing literary advice or praise, and his “English Seneca” is not a reference to Shakespeare. He is ridiculing the shallow scholarship of popular playwrights of revenge tragedies “that could scarcelie latinize their neckeverse if they should have neede” by pointing out their dependence on Seneca His Tenne Tragedies. Translated into Englysh (1581), a collection of ten Latin plays then ascribed to the Roman dramatist Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65). 

 

Nashe’s mention of Hamlet is usually taken to refer to an early version written by Thomas Kyd, with “read by candle light” being a reference to Kyd’s mistranslation of Tasso’s “ad lumina” (till dawn) as “by candlelight”, and “bloud is a beggar” (not found in Seneca) as probably a line from the now-lost Hamlet. The phrase “if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning” alludes to boththe weather in the first act (indicated in the extant version by “tis bitter cold”; “The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold”; “It is nipping and an eager air.”) and the ghost whom Horatio and Hamlet entreat. Clearly the “him” who is being entreated is the long-dead Roman playwright.

 

Tom Reedy

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Holger Syme <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 15, 2012 11:10:15 AM EST

Subject:     Re: Play Length

 

Dom Saliani wrote

 

>We need to remember that plays did not appear in

>print until they had lost their commercial viability

>on the live stage.

 

And Gabriel Egan replied:

 

>I’d be very interested to hear of evidence in support 

>of this statement.

 

There is none. I’ve long wondered why anyone would think the proposition credible: we’d have to imagine stationers—professionals primarily interested in investing in material likely to sell quickly and in large numbers—who would willingly risk their money on texts that had evidently lost their popular appeal, at least on stage. I don’t think that makes much sense, and to the extent that we can assess the connection between stage success and print, there is little evidence that such a business model existed.

 

Henslowe’s diary is pretty much our only reliable source of information about plays’ commercial success, and comparing the figures in the diary to a list of titles entered into the Stationers’ Register shows that virtually all plays purchased by stationers were successful on stage, usually up to and often after the date of entry into the Register (or the date of publication).

 

That said, it’s also true that stage popularity did not always translate into print popularity, nor did success in print clearly reflect continued popularity in the theatre. The Spanish Tragedy is one case in point: it was one of the best-selling plays of the age in print, but faded rapidly on stage in the mid-1590s. And Marlowe’s drama played almost no role in the Admiral’s Men’s repertory after 1594—and did poorly when it was staged.

 

Holger Schott Syme

Associate Professor of English

University of Toronto

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